Trade Quality and Why it Matters

Many self-publishers generate revenue and attract a fan base with ebooks. Ebooks certainly have exacting quality concerns of their own which I may delve into in a later post.

But, here, I’m reflecting on print.

Drop into your favorite bookstore. Pick any work of fiction or narrative nonfiction off the shelf. Chances are the book in your hand has been favored by editors, book designers, typesetters, and printers to earn shelf-space in far-flung bricks-and-mortar bookstores and libraries.

In all likelihood, that book in your hand meets or exceeds the discerning but unwritten standards and expectations of booksellers and librarians, not to mention the fickle eyes of book buyers and library patrons.

This is trade quality.

So far as I know, there are no formal specifications nor badges of approval. But publishing professionals and booksellers recognize trade quality at a glance.

Pick three or four books off the shelf. Ten books. Choose a genre or topic that you read and enjoy. Flip through each. Compare covers, front matter, main matter, and back matter.

What qualities catch your eye and make you want to read more? What turns you off?

Rank the books to develop your own gut-feel checklist.

Cast a critical eye on:

  • Covers: What grabs attention and invites you to buy?
  • Structure: Do the books feel well organized; easy to get into and follow?
  • Chapter heads: Do they reinforce the intent and tone of the book?
  • Body copy: Do paragraphs feel inviting and easy to read?
  • Typography: Letter spacing, ligatures, line length, leading, proper opening and closing quotes, and more—these are subtle matters that publishing professionals note and score as measures of quality

As serious self-publishers it’s essential that we publish books that exceed the quality virtues of competitive books we find in our bookstore. We need to train our eye, hone our skills, and demand of ourselves quality-control standards of the highest order.

Wander around the bookstore. Browse through the remainder piles. Sit down and Google “Amazon + Books” on your mobile phone or tablet. Scoot over to your public library and walk around the stacks.

Consider—by some estimates more than four million books were published in the U.S. over the past year.

You get the hint. We’re talking about competition here. And it’s fierce.

But we’re serious. We believe we have words of importance to say. Discouragement is not in our dictionary. We strive—are eager to learn. We learn from our mistakes. We believe that people in the reading public will want to read our books.

Fact is, we publish from the center of five concentric circles:

  • Inner circle—friends and family.
  • Second circle—colleagues and acquaintances.
  • Third circle—people who know us by name or reputation
  • Fourth circle—people who read books in same genre or subject category of your books
  • Fifth circle—the reading pubic at large

We’re spiders at the center of communication networks that expand out from the inner-most family-and-friends circle to the outer-most rings. Each book we publish plucks the channels at hand. We strive to extend our web ever outward.

If our content is well-chosen and sharply defined, our prose engaging and readable, our books--in some sense--beautiful, and our marketing strategy well-conceived, then sales and word-of-mouth recommendations will ripple out across the concentric circles with ever-growing sales and revenue.

At some mysterious point viral, exponential, growth takes hold.

We hope.

Trade quality? It all comes down to publishing beautiful books.

Yes, it’s a challenge. But our computers bear lion share of the load..

Next post: Thinking about computers